However, two second-half goals, combined with poor shooting by the hosts, was just enough to see them through to their first provincial final, much to the relief of manager Michael Gleeson.
“Coming down here, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and it wasn’t,” Gleeson admitted. “It was a battle the whole way. We got a break with the first goal and had been struggling big-time up to then. Even after that we struggled again for a while, but the second goal gave us that bit of daylight.”
Played in bright conditions, the first half was a ding-dong affair with never more than two points between two talented and committed teams.
Kilmallock started well and were three points to two ahead after ten minutes, but already the malaise that would eventually cost them dearly was starting to show – they notched up two wides in that period, both from scorable positions.
For the next 15 minutes, Sars began to dominate and points from Pa Bourke (2) and Johnny Enright saw them take an 0-5 to 0-3 lead. Back came Kilmallock, however, retaking the lead after a three-points run of their own (scores coming from Eoin Ryan, Shane O'Donnell and Andrew O'Shaughnessy), but an injury-time 65 by inter-county star Pa Bourke tied it up, 0-6 apiece, at the break.
A goal was always going to have a major impact, and so it proved. Kilmallock had the first opportunity in the 34th minute but Graeme Mulcahy's searing shot rattled the crossbar and deflected over. Three minutes later, however, it was hurler-of-the-year Lar Corbett at the other end, and this time there was no mistake. With Kilmallock having taken a two-point lead - courtesy of two O'Shaughnessy frees and that Mulcahy point - a high centre from Denis Maher fell short of the Kilmallock square.
Corbett had been superbly marshalled by a number of Kilmallock defenders but by Phillip O'Loughlin particularly all day, and now he found himself sandwiched between O'Loughlin and keeper Barry Hennessey. He had no right to win the breaking ball, but did and got a vital touch just ahead of Hennessey before the simplest of tasks to tap into the gaping goal.
“That's the way games go,” Gleeson admitted. “From the sideline it can look soft but when you have two guys hanging off you and no space, it was so. Ultimately yes, it was a little fortuitous and the final touch over the line was easy, but Lar worked hard to get into that position.”
The goal wrested the initiative back for Sars and another Bourke 65 - after another Hennessey save - put the Tipperary champions two points ahead (1-8 to 0-9). Kilmallock fought back, but again poor shooting cost them - four wides in a row from positions where it would have been almost easier to score.
The cost of the missed chances increased further in the 54th minute, when young sub Michael O'Brien (a member of this year's Tipperary minor team, along with another impressive sub, Aidan McCormack) pounced on the break from a blocked Denis Maher shot and when he fired home Sars' second goal, it was all over.
“Thirteen wides and at vital stages,” Kilmallock manager Tony Considine surmised. “When Graeme (Mulcahy) broke through (34th minute), hit the crossbar and got the point, they went down and got the goal, so instead of being 1-8 to 0-7 in favour of us, it was the other way around.
“After that we still fought hard. You can never claim to be the better team when you lose but I don't think we were too far off it – we just failed to score when we could have. This game was very important for Limerick hurling in general - the lads wanted to stand up and prove that Limerick hurling isn’t dead, not on the club scene anyway, and I think they proved that.”
Thurles Sars are undoubtedly an outstanding club side, worthy representatives of the All-Ireland champion county, but they were matched in Kilmallock in all but the scoreboard yesterday, well matched.
Scorers for Thurles Sars: M. O'Brien 1-1; P. Bourke 0-4 (0-2 65s, 0-1 free); L. Corbett 1-0; J. Enright 0-2 (frees); D. Maher, P. Maher and A. McCormack 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilmallock: A. O'Shaughnessy 0-5 (all frees); G. Mulcahy 0-2; E. Ryan 0-2 (0-1 free); P O'Dwyer and S O'Donnell 0-1 each.
THURLES SARS: P. McCormack (capt); D. Maher, M Cahill, K. O'Gorman; B. O'Dwyer, P. Maher, D. Kennedy; A. Kennedy, M. Gleeson; S. Lillis, D. Maher, P. Bourke; R. Ruth, J. Enright, L. Corbett.
Subs for Thurles Sars: A. McCormack for O'Dwyer (30); M. O'Brien for A. Kennedy (46); J.J. Bourke for Enright (54).
KILMALLOCK: B. Hennessey; P. O'Loughlin, L. Walsh, L. Hurley; K. O'Mahony, G. O'Mahony (c), B. O'Sullivan; E. Ryan, P. O'Brien; P. O'Dwyer, G. Mulcahy, G. O'Sullivan; S. O'Donnell, A. O'Shaughnessy, J. Mulcahy.
Subs for Kilmallock: K. O'Donnell for G. O'Sullivan (49); K. Kenneally for O'Shaughnessy (58).
Referee: M Wadding (Waterford).